RICHMOND — Virginia Republicans insisted at a Wednesday press conference that their legislative agenda has focused on jobs, education, government reform and public safety.
But the event at the General Assembly building was set against the backdrop of a nearby rally a short time later attended by several prominent conservative lawmakers supporting a divisive bill that defines life as beginning at conception.
At the earlier event, House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, told reporters that 42 percent of the 603 bills that passed the House of Delegates during the first half of the 2012 General Assembly session dealt with broad-based issues.
“And contrary to the narrative of our friends across the aisle — what they would have you believe,” he said, “less than 2.5 percent of the bills that have passed the House dealt with socially conservative issues.”
House Republican caucus Chairman Timothy D. Hugo said one “clear contrast” between Democrats and the GOP came in their attitudes on tax hikes. He said 11 Democrat-introduced bills that would increase taxes to the tune of $2.2 billion were killed this year in the House Finance Committee.
“If you did not have Republicans in control, you would have had $2.2 billion worth of tax increases that would have come through,” said Mr. Hugo, Fairfax Republican.
But Sen. Yvonne Miller, Virginia Beach Democrat, said such an attitude was misleading.
“We are a wealthy state,” she said. “We have a philosophy in Virginia that has been perpetuated on the public — I call it a hoax. Because we’ve said to the electorate, ‘You can have everything you want and not increase the taxes.’ That is not true. We are making some very difficult decisions about the things that we want to put money into.”
Delegate Charniele L. Herring, Alexandria Democrat, said she saw a pie chart breaking down the percentage of bills Republicans say they’ve passed by category. She called it “cute.” But she added that 90 percent of the emails she’s gotten from constituents are about voter identification measures, the “personhood” bill, and another measure that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before they have an abortion.
“What’s not cute is the emails that I’m getting and calls and the serious concern that my constituents have,” she said. “So when the governor says, ‘Don’t be mad,’ darn right I’m mad. I’m mad that the Republicans would push such an agenda that is so profound that [it] can change the commonwealth and the face of the commonwealth and send us back in time. And I make no apologies about it.”
About half an hour after the press conference, Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II took to the steps of the Capitol Square Bell Tower to a shout of “Cuccinelli for governor” to advocate for arguably the most high-profile bill this session.
“It’s hard to believe we actually have to come and advocate for something as basic as life, but we’ve had to do it for decades and we’re going to have to do it for the rest of our lives,” he said of Delegate Robert G. Marshall’s “personhood” bill, which passed the House of Delegates Tuesday. “The fight for life is going to last for all of our lives.”
Rita Dunaway, a pro-life attorney who helped draft the bill, had a message for Gov. Bob McDonnell: the cause wasn’t going to be derailed by concerns of the bill’s constitutionality.
“Neither will we be content to be thrown a bone in the form of some alternate bill that does not accomplish our long-term objectives,” she said. Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, has pledged a full legal review of the bill if it passes the General Assembly and has not committed to signing it.
Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican, said supporters also needed to hear from Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who would break any 20-20 tie if the measure reaches the floor of the evenly split Senate.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Bolling said he is pro-life and has always been pro-life and that he will review any potential tie votes when they get to him, but that he would not speculate about tie votes before that time.